The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, September 24, 2007
Jon Stewart: My guest tonight! An investigative journalist whose new book is called Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy, please welcome to the show: John Bowe! Thank you very much for joining us, your book is called Nobodies, it concerns slave labor right here in the United States. In the book you describe an America that most people wouldn't recognize, South Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
John Bowe: Uh, yeah, I mean, this is the thing that nobody realizes. It's all around, I found a case the other day, or there's a case that I can't really talk about on national TV, but--
Jon Stewart: You're not on national TV, but go ahead.
John Bowe: What are we on? There are 2,000 workers from Thailand who have been brought to this country legally and they are working in about 14 different states and they come and they pay $20,000 to come and when they get here somebody says, "hey, we're gonna take your passport and you're going to be working on this farm in the middle of nowhere and we're not going to pay you and please don't tell anybody about it," and of course they don't speak English so that'd be pretty hard even if they wanted to.
Jon Stewart: Do they think, the difference is now, 'cause, obviously this is not systemic but it seems that it's very difficult to ferret out.
John Bowe: Yeah, it's incredibly hard to ferret out. These guys don't speak English; in a lot of cases, people are here illegally; they're not just gonna go flag a local cop and say, "hey, Mr." You know, a lot of times they're not aware of their rights or the idea of human rights or American laws, so they're pretty easy pickings for the guys who want to take advantage of them.
Jon Stewart: Two really interesting stories in the book, the first in South Florida, is something I think more people would be more familiar with, which are fruit pickers.
John Bowe: Mmm-hmm.
Jon Stewart: Guys that come in from south of the border and are mistreated. Seems like a more--a more typical scenario.
John Bowe: It's really, really typical. I mean there are one to two million of these guys in America right now and their average lifespan is about forty-seven--they get cancer a lot from all the pesticides--so even on a good day, they're making $7,500 a year for working their asses off picking our fruits and vegetables.
Jon Stewart: But these aren't companies that you've never heard of, these are big companies employing these guys.
John Bowe: This is McDonald's, Taco Bell, which have actually--
Jon Stewart: Don't--don't list our advertisers!
Jon Stewart: But there are other companies that advertise, let's say, on the Tonight Show--
John Bowe: Carnival Cruise Lines.
Jon Stewart: Carnival Cruise Lines?
John Bowe: That's what I heard.
Jon Stewart: You're the reporter! What do you mean that's what I heard!
John Bowe: Well, I wrote about--
Jon Stewart: "Yeah, some guy told me, I dunno!"
Jon Stewart: But no, is that--is that true?
John Bowe: That's what I wrote, I can't remember, you know--I'm just kidding.
Jon Stewart: Thank goodness.
John Bowe: No, this happens anywhere where you're getting food in this country. The conditions for the average farm worker are so bad that the conditions for the ones who get screwed over, that's the guys who get enslaved and just to make--
Jon Stewart: And the dodge is: these are subcontractors. It's a very interesting court scene where the South Florida case was being prosecuted and they brought in representatives from the companies themselves and they said "that's--
John Bowe: "That's not our employee, it's the labor contractor. It's El Diablo who hires these guys, he's Mexican."
Jon Stewart: He's talking about a guy that they actually, his nickname is actually, "El Diablo".
John Bowe: Right. Which is a bad sign, first day on the job.
Jon Stewart: Yeah.
John Bowe: "What should I call you, sir?"
Jon Stewart: "El Diaaablo."
John Bowe: But one thing I want to make really clear because people do write about this and they sensationalize and they say oh my god, this guy is lying; we're not talking about cases where people are being abused or where they're working a bad job. These are cases where you're, you know, you come to work, Jon Stewart and someone says, "guess what, you're not leaving here and by the way we're paying you 10 percent of what we said we were gonna pay you." We're gonna take off your suit for your--
John Bowe: and you know, you can't go.
Jon Stewart: Been there.
Jon Stewart: The one in Tulsa is even more peculiar because the gentleman, I guess John Pickle is his name. These are guys from India who are welders.
John Bowe: Mmm-hmm.
Jon Stewart: Talented individuals, they come over, they seem very smart, very together and yet even they have a difficult time fighting out of what is, basically, indentured servitude.
John Bowe: The problem with a lot of these cases is people come over and they owe a debt, whether it's $1,000 of $50,000, which is the case with a lot of Chinese--
Jon Stewart: But in this case it was only $2,000 for these guys.
John Bowe: Only $2,200--that's like $150,000 for us.
Jon Stewart: Right.
John Bowe: They borrow the money back in India from relatives, from loan sharks who charge 15 percent a month interest, they come over here. If they don't pay off that money, that's it. I mean, in a lot of cases that means homelessness for your whole family. You're out on the street.
Jon Stewart: Is there any way for people to know if they're going to businesses that use this type of labor, is there some sort of directory or is it just something you feel like, "hey, that's expensive! They must not use slave labor!"
John Bowe: That's actually a really good way to?omebody should start that website--I didn't. [Laughs] No, here's the point of the book, really, how it relates slavery to globalization: is, if you think it's too cheap, if you think you're getting something for nothing, you probably are. And the point of the whole book is to show how easily all of these people in America have slaves and don't really know it or think that they're doing something positive for the people they're hiring and at the same time you look at it on a macro level and what we're doing hiring Chinese workers to make all of our stuff. These guys can't vote. These guys can't read a free media or whatever. They can't watch Jon Stewart.
Jon Stewart: No, they can watch it.
John Bowe: And they can't speak up--they can't, it's very hard for them to get ahold of it.
Jon Stewart: So you're saying Crazy Eddie--
John Bowe: So that's free trade, that's--
Jon Stewart: Crazy Eddie is not crazy, he's using slaves.
John Bowe: I don't wanna talk about my relationship with Crazy Eddie on national TV or wherever the place.
Jon Stewart: It's a fascinating book and we never even get to the story about Saipan, which is even, I think the one that's most systemic and that's about a protectorate that uses slave labor from China and we get the goods, it's a whole big thing but--
John Bowe: But there is just one thing I have to say.
Jon Stewart: Please.
John Bowe: Do a Google for the CIW campaign for fair food if you wanna learn about how you can not buy food or fight back against companies that profit from this stuff.
Jon Stewart: It's a very interesting thing and relatively all around us and eye-opening and I appreciate you being here. Thank you very much.
John Bowe: Thank you very much.